A new archaeological dating technique has just been unveiled that (all depending on it standing further scrutiny) has the potential to seriously shake the very foundations of the profession. Indeed, not since Angelina Jolie donned that tight figure-hugging leotard and strapped a trowel to her thighs, have tree-hugging tomb raiders and mucky crusty geeks the world over been positively salivating at the prospects of what may, or may be about to…eh, come.
Its all based on a new way of analysing fired clay ceramics (otherwise known as pottery). Apparently, as soon as a newly made pottery vessel is removed from its kiln, it starts to react with the atmospheric moisture surrounding it (otherwise known as water). Most importantly, this ‘recombination’ happens at a staggeringly constant level.
By establishing the mass of a pottery sample and then heating it to around 500C in a furnace, the ‘water taken on’ by the sample is removed. Which can then be re-measured, (knowing the exact rate of gain), to give an almost precise time-frame or ‘lifespan’ of the sample.
Its a similar process to the same way radio-carbon or c14 dating measures the half-life decay of organic based materials. Up until now, of course, this was only limited to biological remains which had once ‘breathed in’ the Earth’s atmosphere, i.e. plants, wood, animals, people. Plus, such dating needs to be calibrated against a constantly shifting sun cycle system over the millennia, which gives us (at best) a 100-200 year accuracy.
This technique, if it proves viable, would now offer us the chance to accurately date the MOST commonly found archaeological object (Pottery) the world over.
Initial results so far are incredible…
‘A Roman brick sample with a known age of about 2,000 years was dated to being 2,001 years old’. A blind test on a ‘mystery brick’, (only revealed to them afterwards) suggested that it was 340 years old. The previously ‘known age’ was between 339 and 344 years.
Most incredibly, pottery and bricks have the capacity to have their ‘internal date clocks reset if they are exposed to temperatures of 500C’, such as that used to get the new dates under laboratory conditions. Tested on a medieval brick from Canterbury, the new technique repeatedly dated the sample as being only 66 years old.
A puzzling result, until one is informed that Canterbury Cathedral suffered significant damage from incendiary bombs during a raid in…1942. ‘The intense heat generated by the bombing had reset the dating clock by, in effect, re-firing the bricks’.
In the words of Miley…’Well, holy god…’
The implications of such accuracy, which is way cheaper then other forms of dating, could be particularly felt in Ireland, where, for example, a lot of our neolithic tombs are dated typologically by the stratified pottery fragments found in association within them.
Read more here.